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There are a solid three ways you could have come to be a fan of Miracle Legion: directly through the band’s output in the mid-80s through mid-90s; through singer Mark Mulcahy’s solo music; or via spin-off band Polaris’ sole album, which soundtracked the cult ’90s Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. In this case, all roads lead to the New Haven, Connecticut band.

20 years after calling it a day following their fifth album, Portrait of a Damaged Family, the band came back together to re-release the album and celebrate 20 years of the Mezzotint record label, started by Mulcahy in order to release the album following label problems in 1996. The band kicks off a short American tour in April, with a few shows around the Northeast – including the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on April 21st – before coming to the Echoplex in Los Angeles on April 28th.

Aquarium Drunkard sat down separately over the phone with founding members Mulcahy and Mr. Ray and talked about the reunion, the issues of tackling music you haven’t played in a long time, Mulcahy’s upcoming solo album, and the virtues of wanting to sound like the Gun Club.

Aquarium Drunkard: How did the reunion come about?

Mark Mulcahy: I think the easy progression was that we ended up doing a bunch of Polaris gigs – which is everyone [in Miracle Legion] but Ray. I hadn’t played with those guys either for quite awhile. Playing with them made me think about all four of us playing again. And as much as I wouldn’t have imagined doing it, a bunch of people wanted to book gigs for us, so that plus I just think – I don’t know if there is some era of reunion. I don’t know if there’s been other reunion-eras in rock and roll, but a lot of groups from the time we were playing have regrouped as well, so, I don’t know, it just felt like taking part in a movement. [laughs]

AD: When did the reunion really come together? Was it last year or prior to that?

Mr. Ray: It was about a year ago last November. I think they [members in Polaris] were pretty shocked that people were really interested. We knew this was a different thing, because the Pete and Pete thing has more of a nostalgia, Comic-Con vibe to it. [laughs] But, I think that was what made us all think. I don’t know if I thought we’d ever play again. We said, let’s see. Will anyone be interested? Would anyone book us? Will anyone come? And then last year was amazing. I mean, bigger crowds than we had most of the time back in the day. I didn’t want to do a nostalgia thing and just play to guys my age saying ‘oh, when I saw you in ’82,’ you know. But it wasn’t a nostalgia trip at all. The audiences were great, and a great mix of male and female and ages. So it was great. So we’re doing it more.

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Oslo-born, New York-based bassist and composer Eivind Opsvik launched his Overseas series all the way back in 2003. An in-demand session player — he’s appeared alongside Anthony Braxton, Mary Halvorson, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and dozens more — the Overseas project has long served as an outlet for Opsvik’s most personal material. It’s also allowed room for experimentation: his latest, Overseas V, brings his tuneful, melodic jazz into alignment with the jerking sounds of post-punk and art rock (think Talking Heads or ’80s-era King Crimson), creating an electronically-modified update on the “punk jazz” of the Lounge Lizards and James Chance and the Contortions.

Eivind Opsvik :: Hold Everything

Leading a band including guitarist Brandon Seabrook, saxophonist Tony Malaby, drummer Kenny Wollesen, and keyboardist Jack Sacks, Opsvik dives into jittery funk (“I’m Up This Step,” “Brraps!”) and moody ballads (“Extraterrestrial Tantrum,” “Shoppers and Pickpockets”). The best material refuses to be put into any particular box, like “Cozy Little Nightmare,” which veers from lovely piano runs to discordant noise and back again, or the loping “First Challenge on the Road,” which balances its chopping guitars with melancholic melodies. An engaging, playful listen throughout, Opsvik’s Overseas group pulses with charm and vitality. words/j woodbury

VIC

2017 is shaping up to be a great year for fans of Vic Chesnutt as New West Records is slowly re-releasing, in gorgeous expanded color vinyl editions, most of his albums originally released on the now defunct Texas Hotel label. Both Little and Drunk have been already been re-released, with Is The Actor Happy? scheduled for this month. More are scheduled to come through June with an additional as-yet-unnamed title to come in the late part of the year. But Aquarium Drunkard was recently gifted a track, by Elf Power’s Andrew Rieger, that won’t appear among any of the fantastic bonus tracks.

The moment the soundcheck-recorded song starts, you’ll probably recognize the notes. And if you’re a fan of Athens music in general, then you also probably recognize the guitar style of the person playing it. In this case, it’s a pair of Athens luminaries, Vic Chesnutt and Rieger’s band Elf Power, taking a turn at one of R.E.M.’s most well-known songs. It’s the one whose video award-winning ways got an acceptance speech hijacked by a becostumed Beastie Boy.

In March of 2009 – a scant nine months before his suicide – Vic Chesnutt took part in a tribute concert to R.E.M. at Carnegie Hall in New York. The list of players that night is astounding, ranging all the way from Patti Smith to Victoria Williams to Calexico to Darius Rucker, but of course Chesnutt’s relationship with R.E.M. went back nearly 20 years at that point, having been “discovered” by Michael Stipe, who produced his first two albums. Throwing Muses also played that night, and Kristen Hersh wrote about the concert in her memoirs about her friendship with Chesnutt, the essential read Don’t Suck, Don’t Die.

Chesnutt was his normal, prickly self that night. He made loud comments about the food backstage. He repeatedly called and hung up on Michael Stipe while R.E.M. was soundchecking. But when it came to the performance:

“You [Chesnutt] looked…like a well-rested hick, like you were wheeling out to the back porch to shell peas or something. Incongruous in Carnegie Hall…You radiated a rumpled focus that nobody could imitate. Except maybe somebody waking up on the widewalk in a good mood and that almost never happens…
Your secret turned out to be that you could play R.E.M. covers and sweep the floor with the rest of us…You? Killed us. ‘Everybody Hurts’ and in your hands, it rang heartlessly true…But yeah, cuz it’s not like you invented any of the other chords you played or the words you zapped with your alchemy to turn them into your lyrics. It was a twisted thing that you brought to the table. Popping open the genie bottle, you twisted someone else’s song; kept twisting and twisting until you’d wrung every tear out of it and us.”

Hearing Chesnutt sing “Everybody Hurts” this close to his own death is in some ways troubling, but this performance echoes his song “Flirted With You All My Life” from his album from that year, At the Cut. The latter was written from the point of view of someone who’d attempted suicide before; the former is a plea from someone who is watching the person in action. Both reside in places uncomfortably close to his own death.

But while the temptation to be sad that Chesnutt would sing this song and yet seem to ignore its message is there, what expertly borders on maudlin entreaty in the original song becomes something greyer and brighter in the hands of Chesnutt and Elf Power. Much like the aforementioned “Flirted…”, this version of “Everybody Hurts” is a document of a moment in time. As the band joins in piece by piece, as the song becomes a righteous cry against the dark, another story within one well-told is unleashed. And on that night, on that stage, in those words and those guitar notes at least, Vic still exists, expressing his feelings, at uneasy peace with his surroundings. As fans, you always wonder what could have been. It’s selfish in a lot of ways. But we also get to marvel at the moments that were and are. Despite his death, that is where Vic Chesnutt lives still. words / j neas

Vic Chesnutt :: Everybody Hurts

Related: Vic Chesnutt :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

ISB

Imagine dialing around on the radio and stumbling across this utterly fried live session from The Incredible String Band late one night in 1968. Transmitted via Bob Fass’ legendary Radio Unnameable show, this is some seriously psychedelic free-folk, with Mike Heron and Robin Williamson delivering ecstatic visions and out-of-time tales. Rob Young, in his highly recommended Electric Eden, summed up the ISB best when he said the group “captured [the] elemental essence of music as an intimate rite in the flickering light, imparting sacred mysteries to rapt ears in the sapphire deep of night.” Radio Unnameable, indeed. Tune in. words / t wilcox

Download: The Incredible String Band :: Radio Unnameable – NYC, 1968

boss-hog

“You play that Blues Explosion album from last year a lot, so check this out.” That was Rob Green, a guy I clerked with in an Athens, GA record store in 1995. The record CD he was referring to was Boss Hog’s s/t second full-length. And like the Blues Explosion’s Orange and Extra Width before it, the album quickly entered regular rotation with “knock my teeth out, make way for gold” becoming something of an in-store, record nerd, mantra for the next several months. Ah, the 90s….

And now…they’re back. Made up of Jon Spencer and co-conspirator/wife Cristina Martinez, Boss Hog returns with Brood X, their first new album in 17 years. Out today via In The Red Records, we asked Spencer to run down some of his favorite garage and proto-punk moments for AD. As expected, his picks and thoughts on each are inspired. Jon Spencer, in his own words, below . . .
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Let’s skip the more widely-known and acknowledged “masters” – The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, MC5, Suicide, and New York Dolls. Here are some of the other freaks! I tried to stick with bands that had little to do with the blues, rhythm & blues, and tradition – these are bands that found their own style, their own sound, their own way. This is in no way meant to be any sort of definitive list. It s purely subjective – just some of my faves.

YouTube links are included for easy reference but if you are curious please visit your local Mom & Pop independent record store and buy some music! Or pick up a guitar or synth or drum or kitchen utensil or piece of earth and make some noise!

Los Saicos, Demolition: 1965. Crazy surf-style punk from Peru: “Destroy the train station!”

The Monks, Complication: 1966. A German band comprised of ex-American GI’s (that had been stationed in Germany), The Monks wore robes and shaved tonsures into their hair and made uber-rock. All-rhythm, relentless, and wild. The Monks toured the German beat-club circuit relentlessly in the late 1960s, playing several shows a day, 7 days a week. Their one studio album Black Monk Time is great from start to finish: pounding drums, fuzz guitar & fuzz organ (a buddy of the band custom-bulit their fuzz-boxes & amps), banjo as rhythm guitar, and off-the-wall yet still political chants & hollers.

The Music Machine, Talk Talk: 1966. Along with the Chocolate Watchband (and The Seeds, see below) one of the the great California ’60s garage-punk bands. Unlike the Watchband I think these guys actually played their instruments in the studio, and all band members wore black turtlenecks and a black glove on one hand!. Driving beat, sharp turns, great fuzz – Talk Talk gets in and out and lays waste all in under 2 minutes.

The Seeds, Pushin’ Too Hard / Mr. Farmer: Most people know Pushin’ Too Hard (see goofy TV sitcom appearance) but I prefer Mr Farmer (1967) from their 2nd album Web Of Sound. The Seeds were led by the mystical and way-out-there Sky Saxon and their sound was dominated by Daryl Hooper’s heavy-handed keyboard style. Mr Farmer almost sounds like krautrock.


JULIUS+EASTMN

“…wild, grand, delirious, demonic, an uncontainable personality surging into sound,” wrote Alex Ross in his January essay about Julius Eastman for The New Yorker. Though he died in 1990, Eastman’s work has steadily amassed a following in the years since.

In 2016, the Frozen Reeds label issued his S.E.M. Ensemble recording of his composition Femenine. Featuring piano, reeds, violin, synthesizer, percussion, and mechanized sleigh bells (an invention of the composer himself) the performance was informally recorded live on Wednesday, November 6, 1974 at the Arts Center on the Campus of the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany, New York. It wasn’t a stuffy affair; Eastman made soup to serve during the concert. Over 72 minutes, the ensemble offers up hypnotic sounds. Much of Eastman’s output explored his identity as a gay black man, often employing provocative titles, and a confrontational approach.

But in the liner notes of Femenine, author Mary Jane Leach, co-editor of Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and his Music, says Femenine aspired to please listeners. Even if Eastman’s wearing of a dress and “the informality of the concert” gave some conservative members of the audience pause, there’s no denying the beauty and spirit of the recording. With it, Eastman conjures up “sounds like angels opening up heaven.” words/j woodbury

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Lagniappe (la·gniappe) noun ˈlan-ˌyap,’ – 1. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. 2. Something given or obtained as a gratuity or bonus.

Guitar journeyman Daniel Bachman returns with his second Lagniappe Session. Fresh off his excellent 2016 self-titled album, Bachman’s proved himself one of the most nuanced guitarists in his field. Beyond its technical aspects, Bachman’s playing stirs deep feelings, as do the recordings here, of Lemuel Turner’s 1928 “Beautiful Eyes of Virginia” and a reconfiguration of Alan Wilson/Canned Heat’s “Blind Lemon.”

Daniel Bachman :: Beautiful Eyes Of Virginia (Lemuel Turner)

I went to Joe Bussard’s house a couple of weeks ago with my sister Sarah and he played this tune because I told him I like that kind of guitar music. Lemuel Turner was a steel guitar player who made four steel guitar solos for Victor Records in 1928 and to my knowledge this one has never been released since. John Troutman recently published new information on Turner and we now know he was from McComb City Mississippi. It’s also known that he served in World War I in France. He was severely injured from gassing, early chemical warfare, and spent six years in a San Francisco hospital. It was while Lemuel was here that he learned to play in this style. I think it’s a nice and unusual tune.

Daniel Bachman :: Blind Al Blues (Alan Wilson)

I have been trying to get this one tight for about a year now and got a recording of it on my phone recently. “Blind Al Blues” is the name I gave it because I thought the name “Blind Lemon,” which Alan Wilson calls it on the recording, doesn’t fit the way I’d like it to. And also I’m pretty sure he wrote this song, so why not name it after him? I got really into Alan after reading this great biography written by Rebecca Davis. Alan was born in Boston and grew up in the Arlington Heights neighborhood. He went from trombone to harmonica to the guitar, played with Fred Neil, penned the theory for Fahey’s thesis on Patton and was involved in early environmentalism, especially concerning the Redwood forests in Northern California, along with countless other contributions. Alan seems like he was a brilliant and complicated guy. There are two other songs from this same tape and the recordings are on YouTube and some German Canned Heat CD.

Previously: The Lagniappe Sessions :: Daniel Bachman / First Session

Lagniappe Sessions Archives / imagery via d norsen